Confidence is sky high on the DP World Tour that the astonishing advance of Europe’s youngsters is persuading Luke Donald to stay on as Ryder Cup captain as wonder rookies Nicolai Hojgaard and Ludvig Aberg both won on either side of the Atlantic on Sunday.
Hojgaard – the 22-year-old Dane who became Europe’s youngest wildcard in 26 years when impressing in September’s victory against the USA – clinically birdied five in a row down the closing stretch at the season-ending DP World Tour Championship before parring the 18th to collect the $3 million first prize.
The cast-list who he humbled in his remarkable climax summed up the quality of his biggest success to date. Tommy Fleetwood, Viktor Hovland and Matt Wallace were tied for second, two shots behind. That garlanded trio simply could not live with Hojgaard’s 64 for a 21-under total.
Watching in his Florida home, Donald was transfixed. “What a win for Nico in one of Europe’s strongest fields and up against some of the best players in the world,” he posted on social media.
Later, Aberg, the Swede whose potential is so vast Donald picked him after just 10 events as a pro, blasted away the field at the RSM Classic in Georgia to win his first PGA Tour title.
A ludicrous 61-61 weekend at Sea Island handed the 24-year-old his second victory in paid ranks – after winning on the DP World Tour in Switzerland – and guarantees Aberg his major debut at the Masters in April.
“The future of European golf looks bright,” Donald said.
So bright that Europe will have a shot of retaining the Ryder Cup in New York in 2025? It is a tough ask. By then there will only have been one away victory in the biennial dust-up in 21 years – and that happened to be “The Miracle at Medinah” in 2012. Yet having presided over the 16 1/2-11 1/2 triumph seven weeks ago against a highly-fancied US team, Donald is apparently leaning towards becoming his continent’s first multiple captain since Bernard Gallacher in 1995.
“We want to announce the captain by the end of the year, so Luke does not have that much time to decide, although we have left him in peace while he discusses it with his family, beause it is a a big, big commitment,” an insider said. “There is a process, but everyone knows that if Luke wants it, Luke gets it. Let’s just say, the signs are promising.”
Hojgaard’s inexorable rise should only make the challenge so much more palatable for Donald. He climbs into the top 50 of the world, with all of the game’s big events beckoning next year. It was a bitter-sweet day for the Hojgaard family as Nicolai’s brother, Rasmus, narrowly missed out on earning one of the PGA Tour cards on offer to the top 10 non-exempt players in the final Race to Dubai standings. Two identical twins, two contrasting emotions.
“I feel sorry for Ras but he’s going to bounce back. He always does,” Nicolai said.
Another Ryder Cup rookie in Bob MacIntyre did secure his US playing privileges, as did Adrian Meronk, the Pole who was so unlucky to miss out on a Marco Simone wildcard. The opportunity will provide vital exposure, particularly for a clash on US soil, and the blue-and-gold brigade must surely benefit.
Rory McIlroy certainly believes so and summarily dismisses the argument that this career avenue – introduced for the first time this year as a result of the “Strategic Alliance between the HQs of Wentworth and Sawgrass – is a case of the DP World Tour “giving away their best players”.
“I think that’s stupid,” he said. “This is just formalising a pathway that has always been there. It will be good for the players and good for Europe’s Ryder Cup team.”
McIlroy was another to hug Hojgaard. The world No 2 was at the awards ceremony to collect his fifth Harry Vardon Trophy for winning the order of merit. In the event itself, McIlroy finished in a tie for 22nd after a 70 left him on 10-under.